When it comes to considering corporal punishment for children, the answer from experts seems to be a resounding “no.”
Ryan Michelle Bathe’s candid and powerful essay in this week’s issue of PEOPLE describes the actress’ experience with physical punishment as a child – something that was seen as culturally accepted in her family at the time.
PEOPLE spoke with Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist and professor at Duke University Medical Center, about the effectiveness of corporal punishment – and she immediately pointed out how “research over the past several decades confirms the negative effects of spanking, any corporal punishment and verbal shaming.”
“The temporary change in behavior does not outweigh the negative outcomes: more aggression, damage to the developing brain and problems in development and relationships,” she says. “This does not vary by race, ethnicity or income level. These punishments are not good for children.”
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Dr. Gurwitch’s comments are similar to the most recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, who issue a new policy statement in November noting that “there appears to be a strong association between spanking children and subsequent adverse outcomes.”
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Furthermore, the act of spanking in itself can lead to an aggressive, conflict-ridden relationship between a parent and a child of any age. The AAP states that spanking can also lead to outcomes that are similar to those seen in individuals who have been physically abused as children.
Dr. Elizabeth Murray, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester, tells PEOPLE that “the dynamic of ‘I love you and I hurt you’ is completely the wrong message.”
“The data is very clear: It is harmful,” she says of corporal punishment. “Studies have shown that living in a constant state of stress leads to high cortisol levels, which impacts how a child’s brain grows.”
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“Further studies have demonstrated increased aggression and behavioral outbursts (the things the parent was probably trying to prevent in the first place) when hitting is used as punishment,” Dr. Murray adds. “Physical punishments also do nothing to teach a child how to handle their emotions.”
But there is “good news” for parents, according to Dr. Gurwitch – namely, that “there are very effective ways to decrease negative behaviors without these types of punishments” out there.
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“We used to believe that smoking did not cause any ill effects. We now wear seat belts because of research. Same with many medical practices,” she tells PEOPLE. “In every arena of our lives, science becomes our guide for better outcomes. Why not with parenting?”
To read Ryan Michelle Bathe’s full essay, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.